Our awesome Pioneer Park Coalition intern, Abby Warr, dug deep to discover the truth about crime in Salt Lake City since Operation Rio Grande.
Crime in Salt Lake City and its Neighborhoods Has Dropped Since Operation Rio Grande
By Abby Warr
Some critics have alleged that Operation Rio Grande, an effort to address lawlessness and crime in Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park/Rio Grande neighborhood, has only served to push violence elsewhere in the city. Given that over six months have passed since this effort started and the increased availability of crime statistics, the Pioneer Park Coalition decided to dig into the data to evaluate this claim.
Aggregate crime data from throughout Salt Lake City—both before and after Operation Rio Grande—does not support this criticism. To the contrary, police data from 2013 through the completion of 2017 shows that aggregated crime rates dropped significantly downtown—where Operation Rio Grande is focused—and have also dropped throughout the city. Operation Rio Grande appears to have been a huge net positive for Salt Lake City.
The Good News: Crime Is Down
Statistics show that aggregate crime has been falling steadily in Salt Lake City as a whole since 2015, and the total analyzed crimes committed are at the lowest point since 2013. Downtown, where the majority of Operation Rio Grande’s efforts have taken place, has experienced a significant drop with the total analyzed crimes committed being at the lowest point since 2014. There is no general uptick in crime after Operation Rio Grande and most Salt Lake City neighborhoods have seen their crime rates continue to fall, even after Operation Rio Grande began.
Operation Rio Grande began in August of 2017. Crime levels during the period of August through December of 2017 have been relatively consistent with overarching trends—that is to say, headed down.
Almost All Crimes Have Decreased
Most specific crimes experienced an overall decrease after Operation Rio Grande. However, there are a few crimes that have not followed that trend and deserve further attention from law enforcement.
Aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle robbery, and robbery all stayed consistent or dropped since Operation Rio Grande compared to previous months. Most non-serious offenses decreased, as well. Vandalism, drunkenness, disorderly conduct, loitering, and stolen property are either lower than the average of previous years or consistent with the averages of previous years.
However, the data shows an alarming uptick in rape. Forcible rape has been increasing steadily since 2013, jumping from 208 total reported rapes in 2013 to 335 in 2017. Comparing 2017 numbers before and after Operation Rio Grande, 30.4 rapes were reported every month on average from August-December compared to an average of 26.1 reported each month from January to July. This increase could possibly be attributed to increased reporting rather than increased instances of rape, with the #MeToo movement and increased education surrounding rape and sexual assault. Regardless, this certainly deserves more attention.
Drug abuse in Salt Lake City has been increasing drastically since 2013, but is experiencing a plateau. 2017 had 4,003 reported drug abuse instances compared to 3,986 in 2016, 2,827 in 2015, 2,619 in 2014, and 1,782 in 2013.
One Salt Lake Neighborhood Has Not Experienced a Drop
Every Salt Lake City neighborhood examined in our analysis saw its aggregate crime rates diminish or continue falling after Operation Rio Grande, with one exception. The Liberty-Wells neighborhood did not see similar drops. There, crime rates roughly plateaued or had a slight upward trend—though still below the 2016 peak. These trends are troubling and deserve more attention from Salt Lake City.
Other Cities Do Not Facilitate Public Review of Crime Data
The Pioneer Park Coalition also hoped to evaluate the claims in other cities that Operation Rio Grande may have led to an uptick in crime elsewhere. However, we were unable to evaluate these claims in West Valley City, Taylorsville, South Salt Lake, and Murray because of a lack of available data. Crime statistics for these cities either are not updated to the present or do not extend far enough for accurate analysis. This information needs to be made publicly available so citizens can do accurate research on crime in their neighborhoods and how it has changed.
While observational trends in crime data cannot answer every question, Salt Lake City’s statistics show that the city, far from being hurt by Operation Rio Grande, has seen significant positive changes in crime rates. Law enforcement still has work to do: Liberty-Wells has not seen the positive trends from other neighborhoods and the downtown area, while seeing a serious drop in crime, is still among Salt Lake’s two most dangerous neighborhoods.
Despite this, Operation Rio Grande appears to be making a difference in crime and having a positive impact on our city. This effort deserves significant credit.
 In this report, analyzed crimes or aggregated reported crime includes those activities most likely to be connected with Operation Rio Grande. This means both serious crime (aggravated assault, burglary, rape/sexual assault, homicide, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and robbery) and non-serious crime (curfew/loitering, disorderly conduct, drug abuse, stolen property, vandalism, and drunkenness). Data collected from https://dotnet.slcgov.com/police/crimestatistics#/chartpresentation in February 2018.
 Pioneer Park Coalition analyzed data for crime in Salt Lake City from the neighborhoods of Ball Park, Central City, Central City/Liberty-Wells, Downtown, Fairpark, Greater Avenues, Liberty-Wells, Rose Park, and Sugar House. These neighborhoods were chosen because of complaints that crime is being pushed into their neighborhoods due to Operation Rio Grande. Downtown was chosen in order to analyze how crime had changed in the Rio Grande neighborhood. Data was taken from each month from 2013 to 2017 to give perspective on changes in crime rates since Operation Rio Grande.